There’s going to be a lot of words used to describe the second year of Fall Line Fest in Richmond this past weekend in this review. Amazing, wonderful, unforgettable, stylish; you get the gist. Really though, there’s only word that matters when you describe Fall Line Fest: success.
There’s going to be a lot of words used to describe the second year of Fall Line Fest in Richmond this past weekend in this review. Amazing, wonderful, unforgettable, stylish; you get the gist. Really though, there’s only word that matters when you describe Fall Line Fest: success. Pure success. With over fifty bands spread across six venues over the course of Friday and Saturday, it was pretty apparent that the festival had grown since last year’s debut. The line-up was bigger, the scope was bigger, and I think it’s pretty fair to say that even the amount of people was bigger. Overall, the two-day festival’s sophomore event was a huge success with virtually no complaints from the vast majority of attendees who shuffled from one venue to another.
I camped out at The National both days in order to make sure I caught some acts I was really excited for. Like most festivals, I missed out on some amazing shows (some of which I’ll mention anyway due to insane word of mouth), but for the most part, I’ll focus this review (and tomorrow’s Day 2 review) on the happenings at The National. I’ll be honest: I probably should have begun my nights elsewhere and migrated over to The National. However, as I type those words, I also realize doing so would have meant I wouldn’t have had the ability to see Death while crammed up against the barricade. As I’ll explain below, that’s an experience I wouldn’t change for anything. There was a lot of music that I took in this past weekend and a lot more that I didn’t get a chance to see, so let’s get right into the thick of things.
Photo by Jesse Peters
The National promptly began its lineup on Friday night with a thirty minute set from Richmond band Comrades. This was designed to open up Fall Line Fest as loud, brash, and interesting as possible. The trio, made up of husband & wife Joe & Laura McElroy plus Ben Trussell, have been one of the hardest working bands out of Richmond for a while. Since they rarely play the city, this was definitely something special to take in. If you’ve never heard the band before, it’s mostly instrumental post-rock, bordering on the hardcore genre. The lyrics, screamed by drummer Ben, are few and far between, but do a great job of bridging the valleys and peaks of the band’s musical explosion. Watching Joe on guitar was a revelation. He was doing so many things that just left me astounded, one of which was his constant beat pushing. There were many times in their set where the frantic guitarist was aggressively leaning on the beat. This created a fantastic effect in which your mind was almost taking in the rhythms in one frame of mind and the guitar in another. Leaning on the beat isn’t some new, novel concept, but I’ve rarely seen it done as well in a live setting as Comrades did. While their five songs hit the thirty minute mark of their set almost perfectly, it still left me wanting a lot more, something I’ll remedy by picking up their latest album, Safekeepers (released in May by Blood & Ink) so I can find more ways for this Richmond trio to amaze me.
Photo by Dave Parrish
Close Talker took the stage next and kept the Richmond swing going, albeit with a different sound. The punk/garage/brootalxcore/whatever band delivered a frenzied half-hour set of songs that kept the night rocking but in a completely different way than the preceding act. The quartet features Sundials drummer Cory Chubb front and center with a guitar and his 80s-dad frames. The set was composed of songs from their 2013 debut record, So Am I, which ranged from a short burst of punk energy to some more well-spaced garage jams, while touching on that aimless introspective feeling we all invariably go through in our early-to-mid 20s. The band’s poise and live antics were the focus of their set though, with their energy coming through on every note and their blunt and genial demeanor coming through in the best on-stage banter I’ve seen all year. Inevitably, Close Talker are always going to be in the shadow of Sundials, but with a live performance like this, they can definitely cement their name as an equally fantastic band well worth your time, either live in person or at home in a recording.
Photo by Jesse Peters
One of Richmond’s most-talked about bands, The Diamond Center, came on around 8:30 as the third and final local band at The National Friday night. So much has been written about the psychedelic group in this publication, as well as around Richmond itself, but I’m confident that if ten writers watch one Diamond Center song live, each of them will have twenty different things to say about what they witnessed. Of course, something we’d all touch upon is just how mysteriously enchanting singer Brandi Price is during each and every song. The band, and Brandi in particular, lull you with these innocuous grooves that are almost written off as harmless before they completely break down into face-melting jams. For well over thirty minutes, the intensity of the jams rose and rose, each a successful attempt to top the previous song. By the end of their set, I almost expected the band to shed their composed demeanor and begin flailing about on the stage floor like the madmen their instruments were making them out to be. But the demeanor stayed intact, adding to their amazing stage presence that kept your eyes glued on them from the moment the first note hit. As I enjoyed Close Talker and Comrades before them, I’d have to say The Diamond Center repped Richmond the best here.
Photo by Dave Parrish
Judging by the amount of texts I got, tweets I read, and people wearing their shirts the next day, it seems the biggest set I missed out on Friday night was Landlady over at the November Theatre. I haven’t had a chance to check out much from the Brooklyn indie quintet, but along with Comrades, they’re a band I’m definitely going to be spending the week immersing myself in. Despite all the amazing things I heard about Landlady’s set, I can’t be too broken up about it because I would have missed The Diamond Center’s set as well as the beginning of the next set.
Death took the stage around twenty minutes after nine and for the next forty-five minutes, delivered one of the best punk concerts Richmond will ever see. Like most people there, I’ve been a big fan since I first saw the documentary A Band Called Death, so this was the one set above all else for Fall Line Fest that I not only wanted to see, but had to see. If you haven’t checked out that fabulous documentary by now, make plans to watch it this week, as it’s one of the best rock documentaries you’ll ever see. Death was originally composed of brothers David, Bobby, and Dannis Hackney, but with David having passed away in 2000, the amazing guitarist Bobbie Duncan (from Bobby & Dannis’ reggae band, Lambsbread) has filled his shoes as best as possible. All introductions aside now, this set was nearly indescribable, with the unbelievable trio playing most of their work from the 1975 sessions that were cut short due to their name. Songs like “Keep On Knocking” and “Where Do We Go From Here???” popped up as well as my favorite, “You’re A Prisoner,” and of course “Politicians In My Eyes,” the song that Bobby said “started it all.” The band even played their new song from last year entitled “Relief,” which will be featured on their first studio album since the 70s, to be released soon.
There were so many thing that made this set so special. There was the band itself, of course. I’ve never seen punk played with such swagger as Death had, and it wasn’t just because of the amazing vests Bobby and David wore. Also, while Death is probably double the age of most of the punk bands I’ve seen, they probably have triple the energy (and perhaps musical talent) as them. Seeing Dannis behind the drums at the end of their performance, you just knew that they physically gave everything they had to that set. The other thing that made it special was the crowd. For one, it was packed at The National. I expected there to be a big crowd since the documentary has such good word-of-mouth, but I did not expect for the crowd to be bigger than the crowds for Hold Steady and Real Estate. I don’t even think the people behind Fall Line Fest had any idea either. The crowd was rabid for the band, and was a crazy mix of elder punk rockers, middle-aged guys in khakis, and excited youths–for example, an eighteen year old girl who squealed for Death like they were One Direction. Death gushed about the city too, having come into town from Vermont a few days earlier to take it all in. As the set came to a close, their affection for the city had clearly grown thanks to the genuine admiration the crowd at The National had for these men, who were all but forgotten until just a few years ago. Like me, you may have found a surfeit of words to describe Death’s set hours afterwards or even the next day. But right after the set was over? There were no words to describe what you just witnessed. People shouted words like “incredible” and “unbelievable” afterwards, but like me, they had to have known that those words were understatements to the musical epiphany of seeing Death live. There are few concerts I’ve ever seen that are better than Death and I know there are going to be very few in the future that will top it.
Closing out the night at The National was The Hold Steady. I was definitely looking forward to them, but to be completely honest, there was no way this band or any band was going to be able to follow Death. To the band’s credit though, they delivered an amazing show, highlighted by Craig Finn’s frantic on-stage antics. The crowd definitely reduced in size by half between Death and The Hold Steady, but what was left were some of the most die-hard fans for a band I have ever seen. They were hanging on every note, every vocal inflection, and every time Craig Finn started waving his arms like a madman on stage. Craig Finn live is something I think everyone, fan or not, should witness at least once in their life. The frontman has always had an amazing reputation for creating songs with animated characters that come to life behind a boisterous sound, but live, Craig is every bit as animated as those characters, and is as invested in these stories as if they were true events finally being told for the first time. As they closed out the set with “Stay Positive,” one of the best visual moments I saw from the entire weekend happened. As the song approached the ending, Craig delivered the line “And we couldn’t’ve even done this, if it wasn’t for you” and begin pointing fingers in every direction at every member of the crowd as the crowd pumped their hands towards the stage in unison and the band raucously vocalized in the background. Days later, I can still picture it perfectly. It was definitely going to be hard to top Death, but The Hold Steady closed out night one for Fall Line Fest at The National with an undeniably phenomenal set.
Night One at The National – just unreal, and so many things to gush about for weeks and weeks. All across the board, it was a success for Fall Line Fest, with everyone buzzing no matter what band just went offstage. The solitary complaint I would have from Night One would be that Death probably should have closed the night, but in saying that, I think it’s fair to say that those in charge had no idea that the reaction and crowd size for Death was going to be that impressive. Plus, The Hold Steady did come through in spades with their own amazing set. I heard so many great things about My Darling Fury and Sleepwalkers at The Camel and Weedeater at Strange Matter the next day, and people couldn’t stop singing the praises of Landlady, but I’m still content with my choice for Night One. Camping out at The National and getting to see Comrades, Close Talker, Diamond Center, The Hold Steady, and, of course, Death is something I’ll remember for the rest of my life. If you were there with me, you will too. Night One was a smashing success, and the next day would prove just as eventful…
Tune in tomorrow for Doug’s review of Fall Line Fest, Day Two at the National!